There are hundreds of varieties of banana in the tropics and subtropics. A project on the island of Makira, Solomon Islands, has collected, planted and documented local varieties.
Project implementer: Solomon Islands Planting Material Network
Project manager: Dorothy Tamasia
the Makira Banana Collection Project
…by Tony Jansen, advisor to Kastom Gaden Programme
If you want to learn about bananas in the Solomon Islands, go to Makira. That is the place where people grow, use and depend on bananas more than anywhere else.
At the Planting Material Network (PMN), we speculated that the diversity (the number of different varieties or types) of banana on the island would be high. We were not wrong. It would be worth developing a collection of banana types, we thought, given the fruit’s importance to the food security of the semi-subsistence farmers who form the majority of the island’s population. The Solomon Islands, we knew, forms part of the Melanesian centre of diversity for bananas (Musa species).
Our first task was to talk with one of the PMN’s decentralised seed centres, the Manivovo Rural Training Centre. They were keen to be involved. Dorothy Tamasia, a volunteer who had finished a six-month attachment with the PMN’s sister organisation, the Kastom Gaden Association, had just returned to her village on Makira. Dorothy was aware of the importance of identifying and documenting important food crop species and had attended the taro diversity fair on Malaita island.
Projects cost money, however a long-term supporter of the PMN, the Seed Savers’ Network in Australia, provided some funding.
Dorothy starts work
Now the work started. Assisted by a team that travelled around the island, it took more than four weeks to collect 83 varieties of banana.
Farmers sharing their varieties were given seeds and free membership of the PMN.
Returning to the Manovovo Rural Training Centre, Dortothy worked with the Centre’s staff and students to plant the collection in an orderly field genebank. Names and accession (collection) numbers were allocated to each variety.
A suspicion of something different
The collection made, planted and documented, Dorothy suspected the bananas in her home village were different. But to verify that would take a five hour walk from the nearest road.
It was worth the effort. Those bananas really were different. Dorothy collected a further 30 highland varieties which she planted in a field genebank in her home village.
Trees fruit and visitors arrive
The collection at the Manivovo Rural Training Centre is now fruiting. Women and youth groups have visited the Centre to view the collection.
With the help of Mary Taylor at the South Pacific Commission we are trying to arrange access through the International Network on Bananas and Plantains for technical training or Dorothy in managing banana field genebanks. She is the only nomination from the Pacific region.
As a village farmer and volunteer, Dorothy and the Manivovo Rural Training Centre may be looking after the only Musa germplasm collection in Melanesia outside of Papua New Guinea.
Farmers better placed to make collections
The PMN believed that farmers are better placed than research institutions or government to make botanical collections. They are more accountable and can ensure that there are real, practical benefits to farmers.